Joshua Bright for The New York Times Kayakers on the Hudson River last week as a ferry boat passed by. Some kayakers have complained that the boats have not been sounding their horns to warn that they were leaving their docks.
Three years ago, residents of Battery Park City in Lower Manhattan complained about noisy engines of ferryboats. Now, the ferries’ horns have some of them squawking and blaming letter-of-the law kayakers for their lost sleep.
The rules of navigation enforced by the Coast Guard require ferries and other powerboats to blast their horns for several seconds before departing docks. But some people who live in apartments in Battery Park City say the ferries that cross the Hudson River were not routinely following that rule – until some kayakers complained to the United States Coast Guard.
Now, these residents say, the ferries are sounding off from 6 a.m. until late at night, disrupting the relative peace of their oasis built on landfill. One resident, Wolfgang Gabler, has posted a video of his wife and children appearing to be roused from slumber by blasts of a ferry’s horn. He even created a Facebook page titled “Stop Honking Ferries in New York City.”
Early this month, Mr. Gabler wrote an open letter to his neighbors about the honking on a Web site devoted to happenings in Lower Manhattan. The Web site’s editor, Steven Greer, reported that the instigator of the cacophony was Nancy Brous, a Manhattan resident who heads the New York City Water Trail Association. He even posted a picture of Ms. Brous paddling a kayak.
Ms. Brous was none too happy about being portrayed as a whistle-blower who caused so many horns to be blown. In an interview last week, she insisted that “this isn’t a battle between kayakers and ferries.”
She admitted that she had been trying for two years to persuade the Coast Guard to enforce the rule. At the urging of a Coast Guard official, she said, she had encouraged other paddlers to make note of the failure of ferries to comply. She compiled those notes – and even a video one kayaker shot aboard an East River ferry that did not honk — and forwarded them to the Coast Guard, she said.
Happily, Ms. Brous said, “I have heard that ferries all over have been blasting more now.” She said that she did not understand why anybody would want to vilify kayakers for seeking to have much bigger boats follow a rule that was written for the safety of everybody on the water.
Asking that ferries not blow their horns for fear of waking someone, she said, “is like saying, ‘Don’t run a siren on a fire engine.’”
Charles Rowe, a spokesman for the Coast Guard, said that the Coast Guard investigated the kayakers’ complaints and found that they “merited action.” The Cost Guard reminded the ferry operators” that they had to sound their horns as required,” Mr. Rowe said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the Staten Island ferry or any of these other ones.”
For its part, Billybey Ferry said through a spokesman: “We are aware that the sounding of our horns may cause a disturbance to residents in the neighborhoods near where our ferries land, including Battery Park City.” The spokesman, Damiano DeMonte, added, “We hope that our neighbors can appreciate our need to operate in strict compliance with U.S. Coast Guard rules governing the safe operation of our shared waterways.”
Eric Stiller, whose company, Manhattan Kayak, operates kayak and paddleboard tours from Pier 66 on the Hudson, said he hoped that ferries would signal their departures more regularly. He said his guides usually swung well wide of the ferry terminal at the west end of 39th Street and had managed to avoid even a close call with an outgoing ferry.
But Mr. Stiller said he had seen up close how a kayaker might fare in a collision with a boat that can hold more than 100 commuters. A few years ago, he said, his company donated a kayak that he thought was unbreakable for a safety demonstration.
The ferry “sliced it in half,” he recalled. Until that day, Mr. Stiller said, he thought that a kayaker who went “under a ferry” would have an interesting story to tell. “Not anymore,” he said.